Banknotes

The Bank of England has been issuing banknotes for over 300 years.

Overview

Banknotes were originally IOUs for gold deposits held at the Bank of England. People used them to pay for things safe in the knowledge that they were backed by the promise to pay the equivalent value in gold.

This confidence in banknotes is important for keeping the whole economy functioning. It is for this reason that we work hard to ensure that banknotes are high quality, durable and difficult to counterfeit.

Current banknotes

Our banknotes are designed to be difficult and time consuming to copy. We work closely with De La Rue, the company that currently prints our banknotes, to ensure that new banknotes are of a uniformly high quality.

There are currently four denominations (values) of circulating Bank of England note: £5, £10, £20 and £50. Every note has a unique serial number.

Our current £5 and £10 notes are printed on polymer.

Our current £20 and £50 are printed on paper. Our next £20 note, to be issued in 2020, will be made from polymer. We announced in October 2018 that we plan to issue a polymer £50 note following the polymer £20 note.

What is legal tender?

Legal tender’ is a term that people often use, but when it comes to what can or can’t be used to pay for things, it has little practical use.

Legal tender has a very narrow and technical meaning, which relates to settling debts. It means that if you are in debt to someone then you can’t be sued for non-payment if you offer full payment of your debts in legal tender.

What is classed as legal tender varies throughout the UK. In England and Wales, legal tender is Royal Mint coins and Bank of England notes. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, only Royal Mint coins are legal tender. Throughout the UK, there are some restrictions when using the lower value coins as legal tender. For example, 1p and 2p coins only count as legal tender for any amount up to 20p.

Upcoming banknotes

In October 2018 we announced that a polymer £50 note will be issued after the polymer £20 note. Our character selection process is underway. We asked the public to help us choose someone from the field of science to appear on the new note. We’ll announce the chosen character in 2019.  

This page was last updated 14 December 2018
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